Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Theonas, bishop of Alexandria

Theonas (1), 15th bp. of Alexandria (whom Eutychius absurdly calls Neron), succeeded Maximus in 282. His episcopate, says Neale (Hist. Patr. Alex. i. 86), was a time of much suffering to the Egyptians, owing to the revolt of Achilleus. Diocletian besieged Alexandria in 294; and after eight months' siege the city, "wasted by the sword and fire, implored the mercy of the conqueror, but experienced the full extent of his severity" in the form of "promiscuous slaughter" and sentences "of death or of exile" (Gibbon, ii. 76). Yet Theonas has left a very interesting and attractive picture of the relations which the emperor earlier in his reign maintained towards his Christian servants. Eusebius's testimony that those imperial domestics who held the faith (three of whom he afterwards names, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, and Peter) were allowed perfect freedom therein, and were even peculiarly valued by their master (viii. 1), is singularly illustrated by the "letter of Theonas the bp. to Lucian, praepositus cubiculariorum or high chamberlain," published in cent.

xvii. by D’Achery. It is obviously a translation from a Greek original, which no one will now hesitate to ascribe to Theonas of Alexandria. (See it in Routh's Rel. Sac. iii. 439, and an Eng. version in Mason's Persecution of Diocletian, p. 348, and see ib. p. 39). After some opening words on the duty of so using the peace which the church was then enjoying "by means of a kindly sovereign" that God might be glorified by genuinely Christian lives, Theonas urges Lucian to thank Him for a signal opportunity of thus promoting His cause by fidelity to "an emperor who was indeed not yet enrolled in the Christian ranks," but who might be favourably impressed in regard to Christianity by the loyalty of the Christians to whose care he had "entrusted his life." Thus it was a primary duty to avoid everything that was "base and unworthy, not to say flagitious," lest the name of Christ should thereby be blasphemed. The Christian chamberlains were not to take money for procuring audience, must be clear of all avarice, duplicity, and scurrility, acting in all things with modesty, courtesy, affability, and justice, must discharge their several duties in the fear of God, with love for their prince and with exact diligence, regarding all his orders which did not clash with God's as coming from God Himself, and taking care in their ministrations to put away all gloom or bad temper, and to refresh his weariness by a cheerful manner and glad obedience.